Saturday, November 6, 2010

Practical Work for Theosophists

Practical Work for Theosophists

by Annie Besant, F.T.S.

Reprinted from “Theosophical Siftings” Volume 2

The Theosophical Publishing Society, England

EVERY person who enters the Theosophical Society is bound to accept its first principle, the assertion of the Universal Brotherhood of Man; but it is to be feared that with large numbers of the Fellows the profession remains an empty phrase, too like the "dearly beloved brethren" of the Churches, without bearing on life or effect on conduct. No antithesis can be discovered which is sharper than that between the principle of Brotherhood and the Class-and-Mammon-worship of modern society; no links of true fraternity bind together the dwellers in palaces and the dwellers in slums; no golden bands of sympathy unite the wealthy and the poor. Yet Altruism remains only a name so long as it is severed from personal service of Humanity, and Theosophy is merely a new form of glorified selfishness for those who "take it up" from curiosity, or from the desire to know, merely that the knowledge may be a personal possession and powers be attained for the sake of wielding them. At the great gate of the Temple of Knowledge stands the Guardian, and if to his question: "Why dost thou desire to know and to achieve?" there comes any answer but : "That I may the better serve Humanity", the candidate for admission should be sent back to his spelling book, until he has learned the alphabet of Altruism.

Let us suppose that all the latent powers of the Human Intellect and Will could suddenly be developed in the men and the women around us as by the touch of a magician's wand, and that they could step forth into the world clothed with supersensual knowledge and power; what would it avail, save to make this world a worse hell of contending passions than it is today, in which would rage Titanic contests of selfishness and greed, rendered the more horrible by the mightier powers of those engaged in the fratricidal struggle? Not until the brute in us is starved out of life; not until the lower self is slain and only the voice of the Higher Self is heard; not until personal desire has been lost in the desire for humanity; not until all ambition is dead, save the ambition to serve; not until this point is reached can power be safely trusted in human hands. Those who lightly enter the Theosophical Society, imagining that thereby they will at once spring into the exercise of the higher human capabilities, have to learn that the capacity to lead the Higher Life must precede the capacity to wield the higher powers. Hence the long probation insisted on for every candidate; the deep study which ensures that knowledge shall precede Power; the tests which bar the way towards the higher planes of being. And since character grows out of habits, and habits out of acts often repeated, there is no better school for forming habits of unselfishness, no surer way of moulding the selfless character, than by doing personal acts of service to our brothers and sisters struggling in the sad environment made for them by our modern civilization.

First must come the real honest feeling of equality, not the verbal profession, but the inner conviction. Unless this exists, all work among the poor tends to become demoralising both to helper and to helped, breeding self-complacency in the one and subserviency in the other. Every act must spring spontaneously from the brotherly relationship; so that aid, comfort, counsel, whenever given, shall be the free and loving gift of brother to brother, so that respect of the highest in the lowest shall breed self-respect, and charity, in re-becoming Love, shall purify and raise and not degrade. But, I repeat, the feeling of equality must be real, all social castes merging into the human brotherhood, so that there is no consciousness of difference whether speaking to prince or pauper, the man and the woman becoming everything and the rank nothing.

Then comes the cleansing of one's own life in its relations to those by whose labour we are fed and clothed and housed. Every article that we use embodies so much human labour, and if we use it, we are bound to render back for it due equivalent of our own labour. If this be not done, we are robbing instead of exchanging, soiling our lives by theft. And here I speak to Theosophists belonging to the “middle" and “upper" classes, for the poor, already crushed by labour, are forced to buy what they need for subsistence at the lowest rate at which they can obtain it. This is not so among the richer, and they are bound to see that they do not vicariously sweat the workers by their purchases of “cheap goods". In this matter women are the worst sinners, buying gowns and other articles of clothing at prices which they know cannot cover the cost of material and a fair wage to the needlewoman. If they would personally employ the needlewoman instead of buying her work from the shop, they would not dare to pay her the starvation wage which they pay her through the hands of the middlemen; and they would not then be wearing garments soiled perhaps by the harlotry which has been fled to for a piece of bread. If they cannot manage this personal employment, they can easily ascertain who are fair and who are unfair employers by writing for information to Miss Clementina Black, 198, High Holborn, London, W .C., who has exerted herself to form a Consumers' League of persons ashamed to live by sweating their neighbours. It is hardly necessary to add that the personal life of the Theosophist should be frugal, simple, and free from luxury, both for the sake of his own inner development, and in order that he may live honestly, not taking more than he gives.

The personal life thus purified, there remains the active service due to our fellows. Each must here judge his own capacities and opportunities, but there are two or three lines of work in which painstaking and cultured men and women are much wanted at the present time. For instance, some might serve as managers of our Board Schools, attending to the remission of fees, supervising the tone and method of instruction, noting if the children are properly fed, organizing free meals for those in need, and giving to the teachers the sympathy and friendliness which they so sorely lack in their arduous and responsible labour. There are openings for useful and far-reaching service in this line of work second, perhaps, to none, bearing as it does on the training of the citizens of the future as well as on lightening the burdens that press so heavily today.

Women, with leisure on their hands, can find a way of using that leisure in the service of others by writing to Allen D. Graham, 18, Buckingham Street, Strand. Mr. Graham, some time ago, finding that invalided children were constantly being sent from the hospitals to poor, overcrowded, and often dirty homes, suggested that kind-hearted folk might each take charge of two or three of such children, visiting them, playing with them, taking them out, and, in fact, generally "mothering” them. These little ones, ailing and feeble, suffer terribly in this rough hurrying world, and much pain might be saved, much pleasure given, by a little sacrifice of time and trouble.

Another form of service, open to the wealthier, is buying shares in companies whose servants are notoriously overworked, and then attending the shareholders' meetings and insisting on shorter hours, higher wages, and better treatment all round. The dividends from the shares can be paid into the Union fund of the employees where a Trade Union exists; where there is no Trade Union, no more useful work can be done than urging the men or women to unite and aiding them in the first uphill steps of organization.

These suggestions may serve as examples of the kind of service which is crying aloud to be done, of practical profession of the Brotherhood of Man. I am not putting them forward as remedies for the evils inseparable from the present order of Society. As a Socialist, I know but too well that all such work as this can only act as palliative, not as cure; none the less will it lighten some of the darkness around us, and, in the absence of the sun, farthing dips are better than unbroken Cimmerian gloom.

It is obvious that, in addition to such duteous Service of Man as I have been glancing at, there are other duties incumbent on every member of the T. S.. Those who can use their pens should answer objections or expose slanders made in the columns of our ordinary press; most editors will put in a tersely-written clear reply to attacks made in their papers. And all should study Theosophical teachings, both for their own culture and for the assistance of others. It is not enough to set our own feet on the Path; as soon as we are able we should guide thitherward the feet of others; and in order that we may be competent for the task, we must study, study, study. The subtle metaphysics of Theosophy will attract but the few; few, again, are likely to feel the call to climb the rugged path to those heights on which the Masters sit serene. Neither its philosophy nor its possibilities of growth will avail much to recommend it to the superficial thinkers or to the luxurious livers of our day. But the sight of noble lives, strenuously and selflessly working for human good, battling against poverty and sorrow, the twin-daughters of Ignorance, these will justify Theosophy in the eyes of the world, proving that self-devotion can exist apart from superstition, that clear-eyed Intellect can walk hand-in-hand with the Love that saves.

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